Cyrano

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By Philip Pearce

IT’S INTERESTING the way that PacRep’s current season takes two central heroes of early 20th century European drama, Peter Pan and Cyrano de Bergerac, and gives them each a new look. Plus the frank theatricality of a handful of actors playing a whole lot of the characters involved in the stories of their lives.

In the June/July production of Peter and the Starcatcher twelve actors played more than 30 roles in a swashbuckling prequel to the August/July musical version of Peter Pan.

Now there’s an exciting new version of Cyrano, which tells the well-loved tale but pares nearly 50 speaking roles down to 27 to be played by a cast of nine.

When you think about it, Peter and Cyrano are cut from the same mold. Both are chock full of swaggering self-confidence, both are supernaturally brilliant swordsmen, both are sworn enemies of the social status quo. “I want,” Cyrano explains at one point, “to reduce the number of bows I have to make in a day.” Peter doesn’t want to grow up and have to make that kind of decision in the first place.

Like many another theater addict of my generation, I’ve always loved Rostand’s three hour, five-act marathon of moonlit romance, spontaneous poetry and dashing swordplay. But Michael Hollinger’s slick new translation and the fresh two-act adaptation of the text he shares with Aaron Posner make for a fast-paced and thoroughly satisfying evening in the Outdoor Forest Theater.

In a recent interview, Hollinger notes that the original script’s world of 17th century Paris isn’t exactly familiar territory to 21st century audiences. “It was important to me that the play speak to us, here and now, and therefore I made myself the litmus test of what would be accessible, immediate, funny, poignant, and so on.”

So there’s little left of Rostand’s blank verse or the sections of social comment on French society of the 1600’s. What comes across vividly is the central ironic dilemma of a man with a face so unsightly he can only use his supreme genius for poetic love talk to push his lady love into the arms of a handsome but tongue-tied rival.

Pacific Rep executive director Stephen Moorer is an active, touching and consistently funny Cyrano. He mines every vein of wit in the new script and catches most of the underlying pathos without ever slipping into the lilting Gielgud/Burton attitude and voice adopted by some Cyranos I’ve seen. His dying attack against social convention and phony officialdom is no reflective elegy, it’s a ruthless sword fight to the death.

This new version makes it easier to explore character motivations and navigate some of the finer points of 17th century French civic and military life by expanding the role of Le Bret. He’s no longer just Cyrano’s trusty military buddy; he’s a wise narrator who steps out of the action and into a spotlight to explain things directly to us ticket holders. It works admirably. Unlike Rostand’s audience but just like Shakespeare’s, we’ve reached a point where we like it when somebody pauses the story and comments on what’s going on. As always, Jeffrey T Heyer is clear and believable in the role.

The remainder of the players are busy and excellent, moving nimbly through two or three roles apiece. Jennifer Le Blanc is a beautiful, passionate Roxane, so swept up in a duet of Cyrano’s poetry and Gascon-cadet Christian de Neuvillette’s good looks that it takes her fourteen years to discover she’s been in love with the soul of one and only the body of the other.

Justin Gordon is an appealing Christian, a fresh military recruit who’s closely in touch with his feelings but clueless in expressing them. I liked his last-minute wide-eyed explosion of terror at having to woo the lovely Roxane, even coached by the eloquent Cyrano.

D Scott McQuiston is a bubbly and comically endearing Ragueneau, a pastry chef and would-be poet, who manages (in the interest of trimming down cast size) to shout protests at his wife for wrapping her pastries in the texts of his verses without her ever actually appearing on stage.

A small and energetic Andrew Mazer is convincingly tipsy as a bibulous cadet named Ligniere.  Lewis Rhames is willowy and comically inept as a plumed Parisian popinjay named De Valvert, one of a string of candidates for the hand of the fair Roxane. More purposeful and pompous is Michael Storm as another suitor, De Guiche, commander of Cyrano and Christian’s Gascon battalion. The versatile and surprising Garland Thompson moves effortlessly through five different roles, most notably in drag as Roxane’s busybody and sweet-toothed duenna and then in Rosary and wimple as the chatty, broom-wielding Sister Marthe.

Kenneth Kelleher’s direction manages, again and again, to make the nine-member cast look and act like a big crowd. My favorite segment of Act 1 is a sequence that doesn’t even happen in the old Rostand version. Cyrano, high and happy at some fond attention from his beloved Roxane, learns that a hundred sword-wielding thugs are planning a midnight ambush at the Porte de Nesle. He vows to bare his sword and carve them up, single handedly, one by one. Rostand’s script simply reports his success after the fact. Kelleher, Moorer and fight director Justin Gordon show it happening in a shadowy ballet of flashing swordplay which proves that perfectly timed farce can be both hilarious and beautiful.

I loved the show, but I had minor problems with the set design. The big outdoor theater stage allows for a lot of depth and width. But is the backstage area so limited that ingredients of Patrick McEvoy’s settings need to be stored in plain view instead of waiting in the wings to be wheeled on when required? The big quarter moon awaited its appearance in the balcony/garden scene from a position way upstage. And an unchanging background of blue-green wooden fretwork units gave a sense of clutter.

That said, it’s a must see, but take plenty of coats and blankets. It continues through October 15th.

 

 

Weekly Magazine

THIS WEEK

ANNUAL WEST END CELEBRATION in Sand City (Michael Nesmith & First National Band above). STEINBECK’S OF MICE AND MEN, THE MUSICAL opens at The Western Stage. “TANGLE OF RAINBOWS” as Monterey County Composers’ Forum returns to Hidden Valley. VERDI’S FALSTAFF by Bay Shore Lyric Opera outdoors at Henry Miller Library in Big Sur. For links to these and dozens of other live performance events click on our CALENDAR

CHAMBER MUSIC MONTEREY BAY’S 2019-20 SEASON

THE JUILLIARD STRING QUARTET kicks off the season on October 26, followed by Inscape (Nov 23), Horszowski Trio (Feb 23), Escher String Quartet (March 7) and the St Lawrence String Quartet with pianist Stephen Prutsman (April 4). Click HERE  

SYMPHONIC CANARY IN A COAL MINE

“WE ARE LOSING ORCHESTRAS,” said Meredith Snow, chair of the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians (ICSOM), and a longtime violist in the Los Angeles Philharmonic, at a crisis conference this week at Park City, Utah.  Click HERE  

BERNSTEIN’S SECRET LOVE AFFAIR OUTED

A TROVE OF LOVE LETTERS in the Library of Congress’ Bernstein collection discovered by Mari Yoshihara, a Japanese-American academic. Click HERE 

MTT AT TED: MUSIC & EMOTION THROUGH TIME

THE WHAT, the How and the Why

 

THE HYPERTRAGIC NOTCH

RICHARD DANIELPOUR was invited twice by Marin Alsop during her Cabrillo Festival years but was a no-show. To my ear, this new Naxos CD redeems him. Talking to Aphrodite, of 2016, for soprano, horn and orchestra of strings inevitably will be compared to Benjamin Britten’s great Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings, the opening movement especially. The six-movement song cycle is based on ecstatic narrative poems from an epic collection by Erica Mann Jong in which “a woman of a certain age who considers, not unlike Sappho, jumping off a cliff to end her life.” Danielpour’s music swings to a wide range of emotions, from circumspect to manic to joyful, with an emphasis on melody. The fifth song setting is “playfully, in the manner of a tango.” By implication, the horn is the Aphrodite half of a conversation with the woman. Soprano Sarah Shafer, whom we recently reviewed in a CD of Poul Ruders’ opera The Thirteenth Child, is sensational. (The Ruders opera has since made its stage debut at Santa Fe Opera to enthusiastic notices.) You will be hearing more and more about Shafer. Likewise, the horn player, Maxim Semyonov, who joins the Russian String Orchestra and its founding conductor Misha Rachlevsky in a ravishing realization of Danielpour’s score. The Symphony for Strings “…For Love is Strong as Death…” (2014) is the composer’s rearrangement of his Sixth String Quartet. Likewise, his Kaddish for violin (Evgeny Pravilov) and strings is derived from a string sextet written for violinist Gil Shaham. This is gorgeous music, full of expression and energy. Highly recommended whether for escape from fraught times or to take hope for the future. SM

BUTTERFLY LOVERS ERHU CONCERTO

FROM CHINA, it was introduced to America in the 1980s, on vinyl and later CD, as a violin concerto, and even in a piano concerto version. At last, the original version for Chinese classical instruments, plus cellos and double basses. 

 

FRESH REVIEWS

MARK KOSOWER CELLO RECITAL in Carmel Valley. Click HERE

NEXT TO NORMAL in Monterey. Click HERE

NEXT WEEK

DAVID CROSBY to play Henry Miller Library in Big Sur on Sep 8. (Good luck getting a ticket.) SANTA CRUZ SHAKESPEARE final season performances. PAPA DOO RUN RUN ends Bands on the Beach season. JUSTIN HAYWARD of The Moody Blues comes to Monterey.

FOLLOW US ON TWITTER: @PerfArtsMtyBay

Scott MacClelland, editor; Rebecca CR Brooks, associate editor

 

Mark Kosower cello recital

By Dana Abbott

THE CAPACITY AUDIENCE at the Hidden Valley concert by cellist Mark Kosower and pianist Jee-Won Oh discovered from the onset that a special evening would ensue. The program opened with Beethoven’s  Seven Variations on “Bei Männern, welche Liebe fühlen,” Mozart’s short but touching praise of love between a man and his wife from The Magic Flute. An elegant, inventive expansion of Mozart’s simple tune, the early Beethoven 1801 cello piano duet is fresh, masterful and approachable, the gift of the composer’s abundant and fertile imagination. The performance summoned all its allure with glittering polish. 

The Cello Sonata in G Minor by Gabriel Fauré was likewise played in refined partnership, its fast moving harmonies and the lamentation qualities in the second movement well-defined. Fauré had been commissioned to write an elegy commemorating the 100th anniversary in 1921 of the death of Napoleon. In this performance the partnership of Kosower and Oh was displayed in each partner’s sensitivity to the other’s playing and their effortless fit and finish. Oh’s ability to manage varying layers and intricacies of background piano accompaniment and to bring forth rich, yet not overbearing tone when taking the lead, was obvious. According to the program notes, their partnership extends to recording projects. One could see why.

Kosower closed the first half of the concert with his adaptation for solo cello of Bach’s solo violin Partita No. 1 in B Minor. He talked briefly about using this piece to take Bach out of the concert venue into other places within the community, reaching audiences that might not otherwise encounter it. He defined the piece as eight short movements in a repeating pattern, with each of the four core movements, based on dance forms of Bach’s time—Allemande, Courante, Sarabande and Bourrée—followed by a “Double” with expanded chord progressions presenting “even greater difficulty.” Kosower’s almost effortless mastery of his instrument was front and center. In total, the piece was not short, but the cellist’s command of the unending yet controlled avalanche of notes and musical figures was stunning. The audience responded with enthusiasm. 

After intermission, Kosower and Oh played Piece for Cello and Piano, Op 39, from 1897, the last published work of Ernest Chausson, a minor French composer, owing in part to his methodical and self-critical mindset. His style is a clear transition from Saint-Saëns, Chabrier and César Franck of late 19th century French music to Fauré, Debussy and Ravel of the early 20th century. Though perhaps the slightest piece on the program, it was evidence of Kosower’s wide-ranging musical interests and a memento of Chausson’s career, cut short by a fatal bicycle accident at age 44.

The dominant piece of the concert’s second half was Benjamin Britten’s Sonata in C, Op 65 written in 1961, one of several pieces resulting from Britten’s meeting Mstislav Rostropovich. The sonata is a rich, demanding piece, with a pizzicato second movement, an elegiac slow movement, and two short but hard-driven final movements. One could say that Britten summons a rich panoply of cellist tricks for his performer. Kosower met the challenge, including using his left hand to move a mute into place while sustaining an open-string double-stop with his bow arm in the elegy. The Marcia-energico was just that, brief and modern in musical substance. The finale, a presto in perpetual motion suggested Shostakovich and ended with a rich, complex multi-rhythmic figure which brought a satisfied, triumphant smile from both performers.

The concert closed with a Russian dance, a Gopak from Modest Mussorgsky, set for piano and cello, bright and playful, a refined partnership between partners. Kosower’s program was remarkably generous in polished musicality, a fitting close to Hidden Valley’s summer Masters’ Festival series. Attendees were richly rewarded and rewarded in kind.